Ahh, the tight end, one of the hardest positions to fill in fantasy football. You either need to spend high draft capital on a guy like Travis Kelce or hope whoever you take in the later rounds pans out. Each year a few guys are going later at the position who breaks out to be an every-week starter. Can Vance McDonald be that guy in 2019?
Pittsburgh will enter the season with a reshaped receiving core. After losing Antonio Brown in a trade with the Raiders, the only remaining pieces from 2018 are Juju Smith-Schuster, McDonald, and James Washington. The Steelers come in at 4th in the league, with 15 targets per game vacated. Tight end Jesse James departed for the Detroit Lions, leaving McDonald top of the depth chart at tight end, primed to claim the vacated targets.
McDonald has always had playmaking ability, going back to his days on the San Francisco 49ers. While a member of the Niners, McDonald had two unproductive seasons before averaging 27 catches, 358.8 yards, and 3.5 touchdowns over his final two years. McDonald finally had his breakout season in 2018 in Pittsburgh with 50 catches, 610 yards, and 4 touchdowns. McDonald’s most impressive play came on a 75-yard touchdown in Tampa Bay on Monday Night Football.
McDonald can be dangerous in open space, highlighted above where he sent Chris Conte to the shadow realm with that lethal stiff arm. If the Steelers can get McDonald into similar positions in 2019, his playmaking ability will be a huge factor in his success.
We Talking’ Touchdowns?
Last year as a team the Steelers totaled 35 receiving touchdowns. Taking out the one scored by offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva, the Steelers scored 34 touchdowns in the air from skill players. Seventeen of those touchdowns were scored by players who are no longer on the team. McDonald was third on the team with four touchdowns in 2018, and with Antonio Brown leaving 15 on the table, Vance should find his way into a more productive red-zone role. Juju and James Conner will be the 1A and 1B options around the paint but expect there to be a competition between McDonald and the rotating cast of WR2s the Steelers have for the third option. The addition of Donte Moncrief doesn’t excite me, and McDonald should have the middle of the field to play within the red zone.
McDonald is currently being taken as the 10th tight end off the board, right behind David Njoku (CLE, TE) and Eric Ebron (IND, TE) but above Austin Hooper (ATL, TE). He is seen as a fringe TE1, but I believe he is a locked-in tight end 1 with top-five position upside. He is currently going as the 97th player taken in a draft, which is the first pick of the 9th round in twelve-team leagues. Tight end tends to be one of the positions where you have to use a high pick on a stud or go for value in the later rounds. If you fall into the latter strategy, McDonald is the perfect target for you in the second half of your draft.
(Photo by Roy K. Miller/Icon Sportswire)